A Plea For Unity

John 17:20-26

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

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This morning we arrive at one of those passages where Jesus is emphasizing something so vital that he repeats the message for us seven different ways. SEVEN DIFFERENT WAYS!!! We find that this text comes as one last call, one final plea, for unity before we arrive at the day of Pentecost. This plea for unity, for oneness, is made seven times, and yet the words seem to fall on deaf ears, this is true not only of us but for those who were closest to him as well. Discipleship is hard, that is something we need to remember, because if these saying of Jesus are real and obtainable if we find the strength within ourselves with God's help.

These words from Jesus aren't some pipe dream, they aren't some ideal. These words from Jesus, this plea for unity, is something can be something that is lived out in our daily lives, but we choose not to embrace the call that Jesus has laid out for us. And the vibrant part of this plea for unity is that the richness of this comes not from its homogeneity, or sameness, but from the diversity that reflects the very nature of God.

Let's take a moment to look at the various people that Jesus encountered as he lives out the words we read in this morning's passage. You have someone like Nicodemus who came to visit Jesus in the dead of night to have a late night conversation with Jesus. Nicodemus was affiliated with those who were trying to tamp down Jesus' ministry, but Jesus doesn't care who Nicodemus was in that moment. All that mattered was that Nicodemus and Jesus were together in that time and place having a conversation, getting to know each other beyond preconceived notions and biases.  

You have the Samaritan woman who came out to fetch water in the heat of the day and, finds herself having an intimate conversation with Jesus, who was a Jew (Jews and, Samaritans didn't get along). Not only was she a Samaritan, but someone who had, a series of broken relationships, resulting in others labeling her with a scarlet, letter. But Jesus didn't care about those things. The emphasis was not on the things that made them different, but on being in a place where they could be empathetic towards one another.

And then you have the Roman Centurion whose daughter, was ill and passed away. The Roman Centurion was a symbol of an oppressive government, an occupier, but Jesus saw something different. Beyond the rhetoric of the politics and fears of the day, Jesus saw a parent who was concerned about their child. At that moment, their identities as a Roman, a Jew, a political figure of the empire, and a Jewish rabbi, didn't seem to matter anymore. Because at that moment the call to just be present, to be in one community with each other,  superseded everything else.

Love that transcends these dividers that we erect for ourselves only manifests if we are willing to put ourselves out there for others. It's love that makes true unity possible when it does not wrap itself in an agenda or self-interest, but instead is rooted in seeing people for who they are, as people who possess the same spark of the divine that we possess. It may seem contradictory to use this analogy, but imagine each person had a mirror in front of them and ask yourself how would like be treated in "x" situation?

By this point, you might have noticed a pattern or at least have picked up on a common theme. The plea for unity that is found in Jesus' morning requires something of us, a cost you might say because being a follower of Christ doesn't mean that our relationship with Jesus is for us and us alone. We'll have to make room for some discomfort, make room for people who don't look like us, come from the same economic background, or even the same religious or ideological background that we are accustomed to. There is something that is a part of this equation to being at one with one another, and that is empathy.

Empathy, more precisely the deep empathy that is required is a sensation that transports us into the feelings and experiences of others so that we become one with them. Jesus might not have agreed with the theology or politics of Nicodemus, but he could connect empathetically with what it meant to have a desire to serve God. Jesus might not have been a woman, but he could connect with what it was like to be on the fringe of society. And Jesus might not have been a parent, but he would have been able to connect with what it meant for God to be the caretaker of all of us and the pain that comes when you see the people you love hurting.

You would think that this is something we could do, connect with others empathically. But the reality, the reminder, for us this morning is that even if we profess to be filled with the Spirit if God there will be times when we don't love, don't embrace, other parts of the body of Christ in a way that is redeeming or honoring of who God is in light of Scripture.   We find that this is the case with Paul and Silas during their encounter with the slave girl who was telling fortunes.

The reality is that Paul and Silas care for this young slave girl is no better than the slave owner. There isn't any justice, no acceptable resolution, and we find that Paul even plays the citizenship card to find fair treatment under the law.  There was no justice afforded to the enslaved human being who had no rights in the eyes of the law, because of who she was, she wasn't a citizen, she was a woman, and she was poor, but even if society didn't see her that way she was still on equal footing in the eyes of all those around her in the eyes of God. The problem is that those around her had eyes that were clouded by greed, selfishness, and a sense of undeserved superiority.

When read in conjunction with the passage from the Gospel According to John, we might find that this reading from the Book of Acts makes a little more sense. It's a reminder, that once we heard the call from God, the call to be one with one another, that doesn't mean we stop paying attention to how we conduct ourselves and how we treat people who are not like ourselves. Accounts such as Paul's encounter with the young slave girl serve as a reminder of our own baggage, our personal privilege, and our own experiences where we have failed to see the image of God in others because we were too wrapped up in ourselves.

We're people, created in the image of God, but we are also people who are mortal, people with flaws, and people who don't always embrace the world with open hearts. God came to earth to be with us, to walk in our footsteps, let that sink in for a bit. Because the truth of the matter is that in our moments of weakness, in our moments of failure, the truth is that we will become stronger as a result if we let the Spirit of God do the work within us that it needs to do. That work is hard, and it isn't easy, but it is necessary to be faithful to the saw that we are one with God as God is one with us.

The plea for unity is more than a painting of a far off future ideal, it is a present challenge that asks us whether we are strong enough to look each other in the eyes and see not an adversary, but a companion, a person like ourselves who was created in the image of God. As we will soon recall the story of Pentecost, we will be reminded that God's Spirit descended upon the disciples and enabled them to speak in many different tongues. Not one tongue, one language, like they did at the Tower of Babel, but in different tongues that reflect the many different expression in which we interact with the world around us.

Oneness, unity, in this modern world, is something that is meant to be enriching. The point is that you won't agree with everyone you meet, and that's okay. The point is this call, this challenge for unity from Jesus, is meant to call our attention to things that need fixing, that need justice, that needs our hearts and hands and blood to mend together and not on our own. We call out injustices as we see it just as we call out the moments where we have witnessed true and pure love. We remind ourselves that even as we follow a living God, our hearts always need to be aware of how to treat those who are around us.

Oneness, unity, in this modern world, is something we need in our everyday lives. Our hearts have become so accustomed to reacting in defense and seeped in hate that we have forgotten what it means to love as God has loved us. Seven times, seven times, Jesus makes this commandment to be one. And if Jesus had to phrase it seven different ways than I assume, that means our oneness will not mean we are all alike, but instead be different facets on this beautiful gem of creation. The challenge that is ahead of us is whether or not we participate in the call to be one with one another. So will we ignore these words of Jesus and try to blot of things that are not like us? Or will we instead be brave, bold, and spirit-filled as we live into the community envisioned for us by Christ Jesus? Amen.